Over the past few years of leading Sequitur, consulting with educators and schools all across the United States, and learning more about the specific educational landscape in Baton Rouge, I am sympathetic to the great confusion and difficulty surrounding the best way to educate our children. One area which has received considerable attention in the past few years are the mathematics and sciences. In this brief contribution to the dialogue, at least for now, I do not intend to speak on the history, philosophy or theory of mathematics and science. I only intend to provide parents with a helpful tool to answer the questions that arise in themselves, from their peers, and from the boarder landscape in Baton Rouge. Below is the issue at hand:
- Educators in Baton Rouge would have us believe the best education is technical and STEM-related.
- Schools in Baton Rouge would have us believe the more technological opportunities for students the better prepared they will be.
- Opponents, or even mild-skeptics, of a “liberal arts” education, would have us believe that if a school does not approach mathematics and science with modern methods, than that school is “weak in math and science.”
- Some new and current families are torn when shown Sequitur, a growing and proven classical Christian education, and when shown a school which has adopted modern methods of teaching math and science.
I have heard that a handful of families, in comparing math and science “programs” throughout Baton Rouge, have chosen college preparatory academies because of the math and science advances being made at those schools. All this is not to avoid the reality that every school has room to grow, including Sequitur. But, to put it plainly, there is a real confusion around mathematics and science in education at the moment.
Fundamentally, classical Christian education is not in the business of teaching students “subjects,” having them master specialized or narrow subjects which the past two-hundred years of industrialization have created and made important. Classical Christian education is in the business of forming whole people, who reach for mastery in the five academic competencies: reading, speaking, listening, thinking, and writing. In so doing, we do have classes which are separated from one another (i.e. Biology, Algebra 1, Humanities, Logic, Latin), but the separation of those classes is not according to the modern standard. The reason, methods, and goals of those classes ought to be far from what we see happening at other schools in Baton Rouge, and that means parents ought to expect something different than what is happening elsewhere. Parents and educators interested in truly educating their children must adopt a completely different standard for the mathematics and sciences, and I trust that when they do so, they will see much fruit in the practical results.
To summarize, parents and educators who take the world as the standard tend to look at classical Christian schools and say things like "well, the mathematics and sciences are weak there." The first problem with this statement is often that the parent or educator is working from an illegitimate or narrow understanding of mathematics and science, often looking at what other schools are doing and expecting classical Christian schools to do the same. The second problem is the chart below proves otherwise, on a national scale. I find it noteworthy that classical Christian schools focus on "teaching students how to learn," which is why we stress things like reading, Logic, Latin, and Rhetoric. This does not mean we neglect mathematics and sciences; quite the contrary. It means we fundamentally care for them differently than modern educational trends, and that is something many parents, and perhaps even instructors, fundamentally do not understand. According to the graph below, these "liberal arts" schools are still "winning" at in the quantitative arts. To see this rightly, we need a fresh dose of Dorothy Sayers:
"Is the Trivium, then, a sufficient education for life? Properly taught, I believe that it should be. At the end of the Dialectic [Logic Stage], the children will probably seem to be far behind their coevals brought up on old-fashioned “modern” methods, so far as detailed knowledge of specific subjects is concerned. But after the age of fourteen they should be able to overhaul the others hand over fist. Indeed, I am not at all sure that a pupil thoroughly proficient in the Trivium would not be fit to proceed immediately to the university at the age of sixteen, thus proving himself the equal of his mediæval counterpart, whose precocity often appears to us so astonishing and unaccountable. This, to be sure, would make hay of the public-school system, and disconcert the universities very much—it would, for example, make quite a different thing of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat-race. But I am not now considering the feelings of academic bodies: I am concerned only with the proper training of the mind to encounter and deal with the formidable mass of undigested problems presented to it by the modern world. For the tools of learning are the same, in any and every subject; and the person who knows how to use them will, at any age, get the mastery of a new subject in half the time and with a quarter of the effort expended by the person who has not the tools at his command. To learn six subjects without remembering how they were learnt does nothing to ease the approach to a seventh; to have learnt and remembered the art of learning makes the approach to every subject an open door."
I challenge our parents and instructors in classical Christian schools to consider deeply Sayers’ wisdom, even if you’ve read it before at one-hundred classical conferences. Consider it anew when your skepticism about classical Christian education arises within you; consider it anew when you are anxious whether your child will succeed at the collegiate level; consider it anew when your other schools or your peers have a fundamentally different standard for education. And consider it, along with the following graph anew, when our own hearts tell us a deep care for the Trivium is antithetical to mathematics and science.